By Neil Keefe
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It’s always fun to have a starting pitching competition in spring training. It’s never fun to be having one on July 30. But that’s what the Yankees will have when Ivan Nova takes the mound as part of a doubleheader at the Stadium on Saturday and tries to take back his rotation spot from Phil Hughes.
I’m not sure what Phil Hughes will be for the rest of the season, but right now he doesn’t look like the 2010 first half pitcher that dominated the Twins in the ALDS. He looks like the 2010 second half pitcher that pulled a 2007 Chien-Ming Wang against the Rangers in the ALCS. Hughes has done nothing to prove that he could be slated for a postseason start in a little over two months, and after Wednesday’s start against the Mariners (6 IP, 9 H, 2 ER), he looked like a two-pitch pitcher and not someone you trust taking the mound every fifth day.
And with Hughes struggling, Joe Girardi has opened up the door for a competition between Hughes and Ivan Nova, even though he hasn’t said it outright. Girardi tiptoed around the idea like he does every idea, but it’s obvious there is a rotation competition and unlike last year, it doesn’t involve A.J. Burnett. We saw what Nova is this year over his 16 starts before being demoted, and while he was a good option as a fifth starter, he certainly isn’t anything more at this point. OK, maybe he can be a fourth starter right now as well.
I guess it’s better that there is cause for concern with the rotation the day before the trade deadline instead of the day after, and once it’s too late to do anything about it (yes, teams do have until Aug. 31 to make trades, but it’s obviously much harder). But the real problem the Yankees face heading into the weekend isn’t whether the 25-year-old right or the 24-year-old righty should be in the rotation moving forward. The problem is who is going to be the Yankees’ No. 2 starter moving forward.
I thought Bartolo Colon was going to be the Yankees’ No. 2 starter, and right now he is, but he hasn’t been as much of a sure-thing since his June/July DL stint, and the Yankees need a sure-thing for October, not a gamble. The Yankees have a 94.3 percent chance of making the playoffs according to CoolStandings.com and a seven-game lead in the loss column over the Angels for the wild card. They are going to the postseason unless something Mets-like happens to them. They need someone they can trust, and right now I do trust Colon, but I don’t trust A.J. Burnett. So, not only do they need someone they can trust, they also need someone that can bump Burnett out of that potential Game 3 start in the playoffs.
Hiroki Kuroda seems like more of a real option than Ubaldo Jimenez or someone that could make an enormous impact on this season and the next. While Kuroda is solid and I would want him if that’s the best the Yankees can do, he has already said he doesn’t want to play for anyone other than Dodgers and doesn’t want to go to the East Coast and move farther away from Japan. That sounds like a guy I want potentially starting a playoff game for me! As you can tell I want Ubaldo and I think the Yankees do too by the way the rumblings and rumors have cooled off the way they always do before the Yankees make a move.
The Yankees have the weekend to figure out who will be in the rotation for next week and the weeks after. While they hold spring training-like auditions at the end of July, they also have the next seven days and eight games to make sure when they arrive at Fenway Park next Friday they are in no worse shape in the division than they are now as they trail the Red Sox by three games.
I’m not sure how the rotation will shake out for the three-game series at Fenway that begins a week from Friday, but I hope that neither of the two pitchers from this midsummer competition are slated to pitch. If I’m lucky, the Yankees will have a new face to send to the mound against the Red Sox. If I’m really lucky, that face will be Ubaldo Jimenez.